THE RHYTHM OF CÁDIZ
Flamenco is a passionate fusion of song, dance and music that epitomises Andalusian vitality and creativity. We step out in the Spanish city that dances to its own beat
WORDS ANDREW FORBES
REPORTAGE PHOTOGRAPHY TIM CLINCH
Cádiz is captivating. The vibrancy of this maritime capital is as intense as the brilliant Atlantic light that ricochets off the whitewashed walls of its Old Town. From the lively chatter and laughter that fills each terrace bar to the humorous songs from springtime carnival performers to an impromptu flamenco performance, Cádiz embodies the passion for expression that defines the south-west region of Spain, Andalusia. A visit to this city, the regional capital of its own province and Spain’s oldest port, offers the privilege to discover a relatively unknown yet truly authentic Andalusian destination. And beyond the city of Cádiz itself, it’s just a 35-minute drive to the province’s other notable city, Jerez de la Frontera, renowned for sherry wines and the iconic Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Yet the biggest draw here must surely be flamenco. Cádiz is its birthplace and many of the greatest singers, dancers and musicians of this quintessentially Andalusian art form are from the region, including dancer Sara Baras and guitarist Paco de Lucía Get chatting to a gaditano, as Cádiz locals are known, and it won’t be long before the conversation has covered football, politics and almost certainly flamenco. ‘Cádiz is the cradle of flamenco, and they go hand in hand,’ explains Mario González, creator and director of Jerez OFF Festival, a fringe event that showcases traditional performances of flamenco puro. ‘It is the most authentic, vibrant, emotional expression of Andalusian culture.’
A lively place to start a day immersed in the spirit of Cádiz is at the central market. Not only a hub of early- morning activity, it’s also the place for a tasty breakfast of fresh, crispy churros and hot chocolate for dipping at one of the city’s most famous spots, Churrería El Puesto de Ana. Then head out with a sense of adventure to discover some of the secrets of this densely built peninsula. As you stroll across elegant plazas and past time-weathered mansions, a view of the sea or the gentle crescent of La Caleta beach is never far away. It’s like exploring an island city. Yet far from being insular, Cádiz has always looked out to the high seas. Navigators and explorers, including Christopher Columbus, have set sail from this strategic port, bringing not only wealth to the region, but also at times, unwanted attention from other European powers. More than 100 lookout towers, built to help identify distant merchant ships heading towards Cádiz’s natural bay, are part of the architectural legacy from this golden age of trade with the Americas. Tavira Tower, famous for its camera obscura, is one such torre mirador. Like the Levante Tower of Cádiz’s spectacular cathedral, it offers an impressive panorama – a sparkling perspective impossible to imagine from the narrow, shaded streets below. With a history stretching back 3,000 years, Cádiz is said to be the oldest city in the Western world. But this is no museum. Cádiz is very much a living, animated community, where the richness of Andalusian life fills the streets. That’s why you can’t escape the influence of flamenco. And it’s not just for festivals and theatres. It’s everywhere: at weddings, baptisms and spontaneous celebrations.
‘The people of this region of Spain have an indomitable spirit. They live life in the moment and flamenco is part of everyday life,’ says internationally renowned flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez. Originally from America, Maria has made Cádiz province her home for many years, settling in Jerez, where she is artistic director of her own flamenco group, Sonidos Gitanos. Here, flamenco is a living art form. It has attracted artists like Maria from across the world ‘to learn from the source’ and refine their art. For the chance to see live flamenco and enjoy a memorable lunch, visit Taberna El Marques de Cádiz. Decorated with photography and memorabilia, this authentic 18th-century tavern is evocative of traditional flamenco gatherings. As a restaurant, performance space and cultural centre, this is the place to meet locals and be enthralled by the profound singing, rhythmic palmas hand clapping, intense dancing and masterful guitarists. You can even take a dance class and be immersed in the duende of Andalusia, the captivating passion and heightened emotions of flamenco. ‘Flamenco has its origins in Andalusia, but its appeal is universal,’ explains Domingo Ortega, one of the most gifted Andalusian dancers of his generation. He is a choreographer and artistic director in Jerez de la Frontera. ‘Andalusians have suffered historically through oppression, and flamenco represents a desire for liberty. People connect with that,’ he adds. The art form is continuing to evolve, attracting new followers all the time. In Cádiz, the younger generation see it as current and cool. Maria Bermudez agrees: ‘Around the world we need to feel inspired, be part of a community, where there is harmony. Flamenco provides this – it transports you, conveying joy, sublime agony and deep painful beauty.’ At the end of your day, as the sun sets over the ocean, this will surely be the lasting memory of a visit to Cádiz. Beyond the warmth of the city’s people, the evocative colonial architecture and the tempting cuisine, it will be the magic of flamenco that stays with you.
A FLAVOUR OF THIS SENSUAL CITY
HISTORY OF FLAMENCO
Flamenco is Andalusia’s living history and has been recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. To experience the cante (songs), baile (dance) and toque (music) of such a remarkable art form is to witness the creative fusion of southern Spain’s cultural past and present. Andalusians have fully embraced centuries of folkloric influence and culture, from the occupying Moors to the Sephardi Jews and Roma people. To visit Cádiz and neighbouring Jerez de la Frontera is to be at the very epicentre of flamenco’s history, home to some of the first dance schools that gave flamenco to the world.
MARKET & TAPAS TASTING
Locals are as passionate about fish and seafood as they are about flamenco. Fishermen catch bluefin tuna migrating from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, using the traditional almadraba fishing method. Small fried fish is also a ubiquitous and tasty snack. Join the locals on a visit to the Mercado Central de Abastos, Spain’s oldest covered market, to see the region’s finest seafood and fresh produce in all its glory before sampling a tapa or two at a local restaurant – all enjoyed with local wine, of course. After the traditional feast, wander through the green Plaza Mina, historic Plaza San Francisco and the sprawling, monumental Plaza España.
The sherry wines of Cádiz province are truly emblematic of Andalusia. They are named after Xérès, the ancient name for the city of Jerez de la Frontera, which together with the neighbouring towns of El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, are home to historic bodegas. Many offer informative tours as well as tastings. Cast aside any preconceptions and try a taste of Cádiz sunshine in a glass. An authentic Andalusian tapas lunch accompanied with a light, dry fino sherry is a Cádiz moment to remember.